There are many factors that figure into the calculation of attention in a family. All other things being equal (which is probably a rare occasion), in families with more than one child, birth order plays a big role. When children are not separated by many years, sibling rivalry sets up a dynamic among the children and parents. Usually the ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ to coin a phrase. This is certainly the case when one child has physical or mental problems, or both.
I wonder if there is a certain receptive period of time in a child’s life, when positive attention must be paid and after this window in time has passed without adequate attention paid, thirst for approval is rarely quenched. I touched on this subject in my post, Questions for Sibs. Could it be that some plasticity in the brain has been lost, as in the diminished ability to easily learn new languages later in life?
My older brother, Mike, needed all the attention of my parents (and more). He is autistic and very low functioning. As a child I tried to help and was always appreciated. I was very lucky in this regard, as I know that many parents are either overwhelmed, too exhausted or simply do not recognize the needs of siblings, as long as they can take care of themselves. Having a child who can take care of him or herself must be a huge relief for the parents.
Although I was and am appreciated by my parents for my role in my family when I was growing up, I am even more pleased about their positive reaction to my efforts to try understanding my brother through my photography.
In the guest book for my photography exhibition about Mike (Brotherly Love), many people made wonderful comments. The most significant ones to me were from my parents.
As a parent of three children myself there is a lot I could say, but every family situation is different and must be approached from moment to moment based on the best of the parent’s knowledge that is to hand. Doesn’t always work out so well for everybody in all situations, but you do what you can even if it’s not very beneficial to the family as a whole. Parents are never provided with a manual to bringing up children, it’s something you learn on the job so to speak. Some cope, some don’t, parent’s aren’t super-human, they’re just people with as many issues as the next person. Issues I might add that then have to somehow take a back-seat while the child is incapable of total independence, which if you have your own children you know is for the first 5 years of a child’s life, in terms of being fully mobile, toilet-trained, able to feed themselves, dress themselves, be able to communicate clearly enough, and not be in need of your constant unswerving attention in order to ensure their safety.
However, if like me you have had three children with a gap of three or so years in between each child, the necessity to be constantly on-hand doesn’t stop. I have spent the last ten years so far caring for very small dependent children. I think it is exceedingly difficult for any parent to give their full attention to their children all of the time, the problem is that children are very sensitive to the slightest fluctuation in mood, and very quick to feel neglected if one sibling is getting more attention than the other.
It certainly takes its toll on a parent I think to be so depended upon year in year out, and must be so much more difficult if you have children who are unable to be independent at all. As a parent I know I’m never stop caring, or feeling responsible for my children, or feeling guilty that I’m not giving them enough of my time and attention when I decided to do something for myself. Your kids never let you forget it either! 🙂
It’s a very fine balancing act where no-one ever truly wins, and no amount of good or professional advice in the world will ever make the act of being a parent or a child any easier.
I think what you are doing is wonderful Jack.
*Excuse the typos!
I suppose that all but the worst of parents are forgiven for any ‘mistakes’, perceived mistreatments, and other flaws as the children get older. It usually is in the form, “they did the best that they could,” or, “they meant well,” or, “they had their own problems.” of course this assumes that they DID do the best they could, meant well, etc.
They learning curve from child to child improves as well (I imagine) so the second child is treated differently than the first and so on.
I understand that there is a balancing act, and that there are no set rules to parenting, except that the parent must be able to get out of his or her own way and put the needs of the child first. The problem arises when the scales are tipped by a child with unsatisfiable needs.
Thank you, M, for your kind words. Glad you are taking care of yourself – with the language degree, acts of creation, writing etc.